Alone in the Desert, Magic at Miraval

Last year I told my husband I needed him to solo dad it for at least a week, maybe longer while I retreated to the desert to clear my head. I told my business partner – in the middle of one of our largest shoots – I needed the same and they both without hesitation told me to pack my bags and go. I needed to unplug and unwind and find new inspiration for my life both personally and professionally. I told my friends I wouldn’t have my phone most days and to not expect a response from me. I packed mostly yoga and hiking clothes and way more paint, pencils and paper and headed out to Arizona’s Miraval. I set technology boundaries for myself ahead of time, when I would check my phone and when I wouldn’t and I took the Shopify app (which reports our company’s realtime sales) off my phone.

I wasn’t completely sure what I needed to find but I hadn’t felt like myself for sometime. For as long as I could remember life itself was enchanting and exciting enough for me no matter what challenges it also presented. A walk outside, a glass of wine, music, the miracle of a butterfly. I have always been rather taken with life. But something had begun to feel different. I noticed the constant addiction to my phone and that trees and paint and long walks just didn’t impress me the way they once did. Life itself had begun to feel more like a chore rather than an adventure and the weight of running a self-founded business and a household of five felt more like an anchor than an honor. I had finally had enough and set out for solitude in the desert.

Miraval offers nearly a hundred different activities everyday, from meditation to yoga to massage to water sports and labyrinth walks. The days can be as empty or as filled as one desires and I knew going in that since space was what I most needed that I would take the scheduling easy in the beginning. I did my research, made time to sleep in and work out but slowly found my groove of daily activities. I read and painted and listened to podcasts alone on my balcony. I walked the property with headphones a lot, laid by the pool and marveled at creatures I would spot. I breathed. Finally as I found my new everyday normal – over the course a total of 10 days – I decided which more adventurous activities I wanted to embark on.

Horses and ropes courses most grabbed my attention. But not just for the obvious reasons but because I felt they each needed to push me in a way I couldn’t quite articulate but could feel. Equine therapy has long been used for an array of its “patient’s” needs and I enlisted in two different types. The first was painting a horse, as in the actual horse. All of the paint is water-based and no harm is done to the horse – in fact according to their trainers they too find it therapeutic – and I was left alone to paint what I felt. They encourage you to decide what area will express a certain area of your life and I decided to make one side of the horse my professional life and the other my personal life. What ensued and what the trainer explained generally does is a perfect – yet formerly unknown – depiction of the difference, relationships, challenges and rewards of both. While looking at the pictures below won’t make much sense to anyone else I for one was somewhat amazed once the trainer and I processed the paint.

The other equine therapy was actually group and as fascinating as anything I’ve ever seen. It began with a group of strangers in a semi-circle around a horse. The job was simple, after being shown how from the trainer/therapist, simply walk over, lift it’s leg and clean out its hoof. Looked simple enough, after all Oprah-approved Wyatt Webb did it on the first try as he showed us how. And sure enough as each person tried the hoof remained on the ground. Webb would then have the sole participant walk back over to him and say what are you feeling, what’s going on. What came out and what was discovered as each person said for instance “well I’m embarrassed in front of this crowd.” “And the horse feels that, Webb would say.” Then that emotion would be worked through, said participant would have to change their posture and release the negative energy and sure enough the next time the horse would raise its hoof. Sounds a bit like witch craft but it happened like clock work with multiple people shedding tears. Amazing the power of a horse…and humans.

The other most powerful exercise for me included ropes and belays. The picture below showing this doesn’t appear to be that difficult, at least to my eyes it doesn’t. If you’re afraid of heights, perhaps but I’m not really, not with ropes attached anyway. The goal of this exercise is to climb that tall pole while strangers belay you. Once to the top you have to use precise balance, core work and foot work to first put one foot on the small wooden platform then the other and then stand up. I swear that thing looks like a boat in the picture and from the ground but at the top it appears the size of a brick. The height and the strangers on belay thing made it nerve-racking but it wasn’t the most important part for me. For me I needed to prove my inner athlete – the most distinct part of me from elementary school until college – which as an adult struggles to find it’s place in the world, was still in there. The challenge, the self talk, the triumph. And that’s what happened. My mental and physical strength waved to me, reminding me they were there as I brought my second foot up and then stood tall.

I ate nearly 30 meals alone over the course of my time there. I read and drew and got reacquainted with myself. When it was time to leave, though I was excited to see my family, I was also sad and nervous. Nervous I would lose the grounding I had rediscovered. But what I’m finding is that it can be found even in the midst of everyday life. A retreat in the desert – though wonderful if it’s possible – isn’t required to reset. A day without a phone or a walk in nature, small practices of breaking through the trance of busyness is always available. I’m needing it and finding it more and more. As the great Diane Von Furstenberg says, “The Most important relationship you have in life is the one you have with yourself.”

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